TAMPA — After combing over the times and studying the competition, a state title this season for Plant High’s girls country team appears like a long shot. Then again, never count out the Panthers, who have won 10 state titles and finished as a runner-up last year.
On Saturday at the North Port Invitational, the Panthers ran strong to a third-place finish, highest among Class 4A schools at the meet. It was a showing that pleased Plant head coach Roy Harrison, but he also made sure to add a healthy dose of perspective.
“Right now we just want to make it back to (the state meet),” said Harrison, whose team has qualified for the state meet 26 straight years. “We have to get there first.”
Rest assured, the odds of Plant’s girls making it to the state meet are extremely high, along with a top-five or even a top-three finish.
Crusaders Building Momentum
Seffner Christian’s boys and girls cross country teams have something in common: They’re both rebuilding, the girls more than the boys.
The Crusaders boys finished fourth last year at the Class 1A state meet, and appear to have enough talent to make a return to the state meet this year. Leading the way is sophomore Noah Perkins, who ran 16:48 at Saturday’s North Port Invitational. Behind him is Crusader No. 2 Corey Chambers, who has run 17:49.
At the No. 3 through No. 7 positions, Seffner Christian coach Andy Holmes said, “It’s a tight race, but I’m hoping a couple of them will step and break through for us.”
The girls, meantime, feature nine runners, six of whom are in the first year of cross country competition.
Celi Guzman, who finished 10th in the small school competition at Saturday’s North Port Invitational in 21:11 is the Crusaders’ No. 1. Sabrina Whiting, who led the Crusader girls last year, chose not to run cross country this year.
Breaking 16-minute and 19-minute barriers
It’s early in the season, but so far no Hillsborough County boy has broken through the hallowed 16-minute barrier for a 5K race, and only one girl, Plant’s Bailey Sullivan, has broken 19 minutes.
Sullivan did it by running 18:51 at Saturday’s North Port Invitational, while Sullivan’s teammate Anna Montgomery just missed at 19:01.
On the boys’ side, Plant’s Jack Guyton also came close on Saturday in North Port by clocking 16:04.
No doubt, many more county runners will break through the 16-minute and 19-minute barriers in the coming weeks.